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Graphene Researchers from MIT Created a New Type of “Sonic Boom”

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A study conducted by a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in collaboration with other researchers from Israel, Croatia and Singapore, revealed that a flow of electric current when ran through a sheet of graphene, the wonder 1-atom-thick material, overtake or surpasses the speed of a slowed down light. They discovered that when the flow of electric current passes through the graphene it produces an intense, focused beam of light or an optical “boom,” as they like to call it.

The study, which was published in the Journal Nature Communications, reveals that under certain conditions, this entirely new way of converting electricity into visible radiation is not only very controllable but is also very fast and way too efficient, giving way to new uses for graphene.

MIT’s postdoc and lead author of this interesting research, Ido Kaminer, said that Graphene has the unique capability to trap light in modes called plasmons. Kaminer added that these plasmons are generally virtual particle that represents the oscillations of electrons on the surface. He also said that when ran through a sheet of graphene, the speed of this type of virtual particle slows down to about a few hundred times as compared to a light in free space.

The effect of this wonder material on the flow of electricity also seemed to matched one of its special characteristics, which is, allowing electrons to pass through it at a blinding speed, about a million meters per second, or 1/300 the speed of light in a vacuum. This means that those two speeds are the same that significant interactions might happen between the two types of particles, if the material could be adjusted in order to match their velocities.

The combination of properties shows a possibility of exploiting graphene to create the possible opposite outcome which is to produce light and not trap it. Moreover, the theoretical work of these international researchers and scientists clearly demonstrates that they now have a breakthrough which can lead to a new way of producing light, akin to the shockwave of sound when one breaks the sound barrier, when electrons approach the speed of light in graphene, it seems to break the light barrier, producing a shockwave of light trapped in two dimensions.

This micro-scale, high-speed and controllable Plasmon-based approach to produce light may result to other usage and application like an on-chip photonics.

Kaminer further explained, “If you want to do all sorts of signal processing problems on a chip, you want to have a very fast signal, and also to be able to work on very small scales.”

The lead author went further on saying that by using light and not flowing electrons as the source for moving and keeping data could push operating speeds six orders of magnitude higher as compared to what we usually use in electronics, or basically up to a million times faster. Instead of having intricate and compound opto-coupling interfaces wherein optical losses results to wastefulness, graphene can be generally be exploited and maximized in order to produce and at the same time trap the beams.

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